Albeit not a necessity, a small amount of you will compete at one time or another. Tournaments, or any form of competition, should be a benefit to your BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU game because you will often see flaws in your game you may not normally see in a low-pressure sparring session. And competition will also give you a chance to test your game against other people you may not normally get a chance to train with. If you desire to challenge yourself outside of your gym, there are many events that are available for you. The prices of many of these events are a bit steep depending on whom you ask. The prices range from about $50 to $200 depending on what event and how many divisions you compete in (many allow for you to compete in more than one category— be sure to read up on the registration form).
In most tournaments you will be grouped with your belt class, and your weight class will likely range within about 10-20 pounds; more disparity usually occurs at the heavier weight classes. Age categories will also vary from tournament promotion to tournament promotion. As a white belt, the time frame for many tournaments will be between about four to six minutes and will likely go up to approximately ten minutes for the higher belts such as black, advanced or expert (typically No Gi). Some tournaments like US Grappling will occasionally do submission-only events. This means the tournament will have no time limit and will end only by submission.
For No Gi you will usually start out at a novice or beginner division and end up in your later years at the advanced or expert division. Determining which division may be a bit tricky; grappling experience such as Judo or wrestling may count for years trained grappling. Belt rank with the Gi may also count as time spent on the mat. And some tournaments will have you compete No Gi according to your belt rank, especially if the promotion follows IBJJF rules. It will likely be discretionary from tournament promotion to tournament promotion so I recommend reading the rules for each promotion carefully.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming out Monday